"Wake up, Merlin! Wake up!"
Merlin groaned as he rolled over in his bed, mumbling words that couldn't be understood. This was only his third night back home! Who had the audacity to disturb him while he was joyously rediscovering soft bedding? He'd practiced hard today…
"Seriously, Lancelot," he growled, and opened his eyes.
And then he sat straight up, suddenly very glad that his mumbling had been unintelligible. It wasn't proper to use such language in front of a lady.
"Morgana," he moaned. He seriously considered getting up and putting a proper shirt on (this one was old, comfortable, and would have been trashed long ago if a servant had been able to find it), but decided that he just didn't care that much. "What are you doing here? In a man's room. At… it's got to be two in the morning." He looked at his window, where the stars were visible through the crack in the curtains.
"It's three," Morgana replied. "I think."
"Oh," said Merlin, yawning and stretching. He looked down. "You're dressed," he said. "Why are you dressed at three in the morning? I thought you were trying to avoid making Nimueh suspicious."
"Oh, she hasn't bothered me since I told her Arthur was dead. She would have liked Uther to die, too, I think, but she had to settle."
"Poor Nimueh," Merlin said. "I'll do better next time. Is this going to require me to get dressed?"
"Yes," Morgana answered him, dragging him by the arm out of bed—he yelped. "You need to get dressed because Arthur wants to talk to you."
Merlin's open mouth snapped shut. "Arthur Pendragon wants to talk to me. That's where you were. You were out visiting family. He does realize he can't just send ladies at three in the morning…"
"I suggested you talk now," Morgana answered him with a glare and a shove towards his dresser. "I figured that you were less likely to be overheard this way. Besides, he has to get away from his father too, you know, and he comes from a bit more distance than you do."
"Fine," Merlin sighed, grabbing his clothes from the dresser and disappearing behind his screen. "You're going to escort me there?"
"And if Lancelot finds out about this and kills me…"
Merlin rolled his eyes, but of course she could not see him. In short order, the two of them were sneaking quietly through the castle, only a faint ball of light that Merlin had conjured lighting the way. That sphere of power was Merlin's specialty and favorite, despite having few uses. He thought he could do it in his sleep.
Soon they were in the silent courtyard, evading the guards. They were reduced to actually sneaking since Nimueh and Merlin both had put anti-enchantment spells and charms on the guards. Morgana was right behind him, giggling just a bit.
"Where is he?" Merlin whispered.
"I'll show you once you're out the gate," Morgana responded.
Once they slipped out the gate, Morgana took the lead, leading Merlin swiftly through the trees. "He's been here for a few hours," Morgana confided. "He left this afternoon…" And then she pointed. "There!" she said, and took off at a run.
"Morgana," Merlin sighed, following her at a slower pace, watching as up ahead she caught up to Arthur and hugged him as though she hadn't seen him in a long time.
She pulled back and beckoned for Merlin, who hurried at her silent request. "Here," he said. "Hello, Arthur."
"Sire," Arthur greeted him, letting go of Morgana to hold out his hand.
Merlin looked at it and chuckled. "Doing that again, are we?" he mumbled as he shook Arthur's hand. "Morgana said you wanted to talk."
"Ah, I did, yes," Arthur agreed, pushing back his blond hair. He looked much better than the last time Merlin had seen him. He looked alive, for one, and healthier. He was cleaner and not so ragged; obviously several days of Guinevere's care.
Arthur looked at Morgana until she got the hint. "Oh!" she cried. "Right. I'll be… over that way. Don't talk about anything too secret without me, okay?" And with a laugh she once again disappeared into the trees, leaving Merlin with his biggest enemy—and friend.
Merlin looked back at Arthur. "You look better," he said.
"What? Oh." Arthur looked distracted. "Yeah, a few days at home." He looked up. "They fixed your hair."
"Yeah, restored my rugged good looks," Merlin snorted. "They just made it shorter." He coughed. "I'm assuming," he said, "that you've only barely finished living through lectures like I have?"
"Oh, yeah," Arthur snorted. "I guess it's worse for you; you've got both parents. I've got Leon, though, so I don't know… But Guinevere made up for it."
Merlin laughed along with Arthur, even though he didn't know who Leon was.
"Gwen," Merlin said. "She's a great woman. I can see why you admire her so much. She was the girl you told me about last week?"
Arthur grinned sheepishly and looked at his feet. "Yeah."
Merlin shrugged. "Love's nothing to be ashamed of," he said.
Arthur coughed, decided this was too awkward for him, and moved onto the next awkward subject. "You did a really good job," he said. "With the plan. I mean, I couldn't hear it, naturally, I was half-dead, but Gwen told me you did really well. Thank you for that. For saving all those lives."
Merlin waved his hand, but knew enough to accept compliments gracefully. "It was well-executed all around," he said, looking around at the night and noticing the moon briefly. Was Morgana nearby? He brought himself back to the present. "Gwen, for example," he said. "She was great. Her crying was really convincing… It distracted everyone, gave Gwaine the time to tell your father the truth…" He trailed off. Then perked up. "Lancelot told me he thought she did wonderfully."
Arthur stiffened a bit at the mention of Lancelot. But then he shook his head. "I didn't come to talk about that," he admitted. "I came to apologize."
"Apologize?" Merlin asked, head turned to the side.
Arthur nodded. "I lied to you. When I came to Camelot. I was a spy. My father used to tell me that truly noble men admit when they do what they should not and make amends. So I am sorry." He bit his lip. That had physically hurt to say.
"You're a soldier, Arthur," Merlin said. "And you had your orders. I can't blame you for that."
"It still wasn't fair to you," Arthur argued.
Merlin couldn't contest that. No, it wasn't fair, and it had hurt. It had hurt him deeply, mostly because he'd begun to hope that Arthur was going to be his friend, his real friend, and he had so few. He wondered if he would tell Arthur that now—but no. Perhaps another time. If there was another time.
"No," Merlin said. "Hopefully it doesn't need to happen again. I realize that we might not have done too much, but Arthur, I do plan on working towards some sort of peace. My father isn't always reasonable. But maybe I can keep him… You know, away. Until I can make some progress."
"My own father isn't always reasonable," Arthur agreed. "I'll try as well. We will continue to work for our rights, but I don't want to fight unless we have to." He looked pensively at his feet. "I don't want to fight. I just want people to be able to live in peace."
Merlin put his hand on Arthur's shoulder, but Arthur awkwardly shrugged away—he did not like to be comforted. "Arthur," Merlin said. "My father would weep to hear me say this, but had things been different between our fathers… I think you would have made a great king."
Arthur laughed at that. "Do it for me, then. They told me how you handled two armies. You've got a lot of potential, did you know?"
Merlin smiled. "I've never been informed of that." He waited, to see if Arthur would remember the joke.
"You do," Arthur affirmed, and grinned so that Merlin knew he remembered.
"Well, thank you for informing me." Merlin laughed. "I'm sorry you never got the chance to teach me some of your life-saving punches," he said.
Arthur nodded as he ran his hand down a tree casually. "Maybe someday I'll get the chance. It's too bad I didn't pick up on any magic!"
Merlin laughed, really laughed, out loud. "Never," he swore. "I won't be responsible for that."
Smirking, Arthur said, "It's almost a shame. I guess it can be funny. You should have seen everyone's faces when I woke up… I don't think they believed Gwaine's explanation. Except Leon. I don't really think Leon was fooled…" Thinking of Leon, Arthur began to subconsciously run his fingers around the still-healing new scar that peeked out from the top of his shirt.
Merlin's eyes were drawn to it immediately. He couldn't see all of it. Since he'd been kidnapped, he hadn't ever seen the whole thing. But it didn't matter. He knew what it was as well as if he had.
An X. A decree that Arthur's whole being was punished by the crown, reprimanded in the harshest way possible.
Merlin pointed. "You aren't the only one who needs to apologize," he said. "I know I wasn't there, but I am sorry for the law."
Arthur quickly covered his scar with his shirt. "No," he said. "Espionage, remember?"
Merlin shook his head. "No, it's because you were a Pendragon. One day it'll be different, like you want it to be. I promise."
Arthur's smile lit up his face. "I'll hold you to that." Then he looked up. "You should get some sleep. I should get some sleep. I have to get back before tomorrow afternoon, or my father will panic. And I have quite a distance to cover tonight."
Arthur held out his hand. He was crazy about those handshakes.
Merlin took it, but then he used his grip to pull Arthur in, giving the larger man a strong, friendly hug with his free arm. When he released the almost-prince, he had to laugh at Arthur's stunned and uncomfortable look.
"Thanks," Arthur said awkwardly as he turned to go, distinctly aware that Merlin was laughing at him.
The prince was unashamed as his friend melted into the darkness, shaking his head with mirth as he turned back towards the castle, walking until Morgana met him.
She appeared from the side as he strolled, slipping her hand into his quietly as she fell into step with him. Their hands were nearly the same size.
Silently, he looked at their joined hands, and she flipped her hair back as she answered. "If anyone asks, we can just say we went for a walk under the stars." She drifted closer to him. Merlin let her lean her head near his shoulder as she looked up into the sprinkled stars.
"You talked to Arthur?"
"I love Arthur."
"I love you, too."
Merlin was quiet for a moment, before he turned to her and smiled widely. "Thank you."
She hummed in response, then said, "You have to teach me that mock-death spell sometime."
"Sure," Merlin said. "You need to work on non-verbal anyway."
Morgana smiled thinly, still looking ahead of them. "That's okay," she said. "Because I can still thrash you in swordplay."
Merlin didn't argue.
Soon enough they were back in Merlin's room, having only explained themselves to one guard.
"Good night, Morgana," he said, heading towards his changing screen, but she stopped him by grabbing his arm.
Expectantly, he turned around, eyebrows raised.
She looked at him for a moment, licking her lips and searching his eyes. And then she leaned forward without warning and caught his lips with her own.
Merlin gasped as she pulled back, his blue eyes as wide as if she'd knocked the breath out of him. "Morgana…" he said.
"Just think about it, Merlin," she ordered.
He looked torn. "But Freya…"
She shushed him with a finger to his lips. "Just think about it," she ordered again, and then she turned. Her dress turned behind her, and she slipped out of his door without looking back.
He stared after her in the darkness for several moments, shaking his head to clear it and forgetting to think about strawberries. But then, in the darkness, he brought his hand to his mouth, and he began to softly smile.
A/N: It's over, then. Please review one last time! What did you think? Did you like the story? And would anyone be interested in a sequel? Because I have this vague idea for one, which I may write if anyone likes the idea…
Also, I have a tumblr now. The link is on my profile if you are interested.
Once more, I'd like to thank Ultra Geek, who thought of the idea for the reverse!AU in the first place and allowed me to use it.
~Kitty O of Awesomeness